Wanting war with Iran has been a fairly mainstream Republican position since at least the 1979 Iran hostage crisis. In fact, if we do go to war with Iran, no one should be surprised, given that 47 Republican Senators wrote this snarky and antagonistic open letter to Iran in 2015 after they agreed to a nuclear deal with President Obama. Per the vast majority of the 2015 Republican Senate:
What these two constitutional provisions mean is that we will consider any agreement regarding your nuclear-weapons program that is not approved by the Congress as nothing more than an executive agreement between President Obama and Ayatollah Khamenei. The next president could revoke such an executive agreement with the stroke of a pen and future Congresses could modify the terms of the agreement at any time.
We hope this letter enriches your knowledge of our constitutional system and promotes mutual understanding and clarity as nuclear negotiations progress.
There is a direct line between that letter and today’s harrowing report. Per the New York Times:
At a meeting of President Trump’s top national security aides last Thursday, Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan presented an updated military plan that envisions sending as many as 120,000 troops to the Middle East should Iran attack American forces or accelerate work on nuclear weapons, administration officials said.
The revisions were ordered by hard-liners led by John R. Bolton, Mr. Trump’s national security adviser. They do not call for a land invasion of Iran, which would require vastly more troops, officials said.
What the Republican Party did in 2015 is essentially ally themselves with Iranian hardliners who want to wage holy war against the United States. “Moderates” (which is a term relative to the political extremes dragging both countries towards war) in Iran and the United States agreed to a deal in 2015 that defanged Iran’s nuclear program—which Trump later pulled out of—and 94% of foreign policy experts polled by the Teaching, Research, and International Policy (TRIP) organization think it was the wrong move. The Iran deal is simply not the disaster that conservatives have sold it to be—so you cannot help but wonder what their motivation is in trying to scuttle it. For GOPers like John Bolton, and anywhere up to 47 Senators, it’s clear as day that war is the reason why they opposed a peace deal.
This dramatic escalation is really not new — just the most recent and dangerous iteration of the Republican Party’s collective angst against a diverse country of 81 million people (twice the population of California) ruled by a despotic regime and its enforcer, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, which is one of the foremost sponsors of death and suffering in the world today. Iran is impossibly complicated, but historically speaking, the GOP has treated it like a monolith. In a 2016 poll, just 4% of Republicans viewed Iran favorably—compared to only 18% of Democrats.
The difference is that even though Democrats are not much better in their unabashed hatred for Iran, they are not trying to go to war with Iran, but to mollify its ambitions for war, as demonstrated by the 2015 nuclear deal. Republicans hold a different worldview, and thus, different attitudes about Iran’s motivations, as this piece about the American right’s hatred for Iran in The Conversation explains:
Another reason why conservatives are less willing to live with Iran than liberals is that they are simply more scared of it. Extensive psychological research has demonstrated that American conservatives consider the world more dangerous than liberals do. Various similarly fearful and suspicious ideological and cognitive biases appear to shape American conservatives’ views on policy — their opposition to gun control, for example, may be powerfully shaped by the fact that they have a higher expectation of needing to defend themselves from crime than liberals do.
The same holds true for the American right’s hostility to Iran, and to the 2015 nuclear agreement. It’s clear that many on the right are simply more intensely fearful of the threat posed by a nuclear-armed Iran than those who do not share their worldview.
Barack Obama’s deal was far from perfect, but it forced a third party in to observe Iran’s nuclear activity, which is a massive victory for peace. Bloodthirsty psychopathic war hawks like John Bolton and Senator Tom Cotton permeate major offices throughout the Republican Party, and extremists like those two are able to rise to vitally important positions because their views simply are not that extreme in the context of standard GOP foreign policy (policy which is embraced by a significant chunk of the Democratic Party, as exemplified by a majority of Senate Democrats voting for the disastrous Iraq War in 2003). Bolton, whom very few serious people take seriously as a serious thinker, has now served as a major foreign policy advisor to the last two Republican presidents. Tom Cotton sits on the Armed Services and Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committees, and he was also considered for Secretary of Defense before Trump gave it to General James Mattis.
This is the Republican Party—47 out of 54 Senators potentially broke the law in 2015 to try to intervene in a legal peace agreement made by the executive branch—so it should be no surprise that we sit on the precipice of war today as we sit beneath the stewardship of a Republican administration and a Republican-controlled Congress.
Trump is one of our best shots to avoid catastrophe here, folks. That’s how far gone the Republican Party proved themselves to be with their invasion of Iraq in 2003 (which also began with about 120,000 U.S. troops). War is not just a goal, but the ideal status quo to major GOP foreign policy figures like John Bolton and Tom Cotton. Trump is not the same kind of perpetually fearful creature as Bolton and Cotton—he lives in perpetual fear of anything that could personally damage him—and Trump’s false assertion that he opposed the Iraq War in 2003 is proof that Trump understands the political ramifications of a major decision like this. If John Bolton and his endless line of powerful allies have their way, we will be at war with Iran before this column publishes. President Donald J. Trump is one of our best hopes to avoid the bloody inevitability desired by at least a controlling plurality of Republicans over the last 40 years—God help us all.
Jacob Weindling is a staff writer for Paste politics. Follow him on Twitter at @Jakeweindling.